In an important policy reversal, the Corporation will now allow department chairmen to request personally draft deferments for graduate students in cases where deferment is justified under the law.
Previously only statements of fact as to nature of work carried on by individual staff members could be sent to the draft boards, and not actual requests for deferment, Sargent Kennedy, secretary to the Corporation, explained yesterday.
The change was made because of information concerning the practices of to other universities in which such deferment requests are allowed, Kennedy said. The decision came at the March 17 meeting of the Corporation.
"The Corporation has made it a policy never to make a direct request for the exemption of a member of the staff from military service," a March 20 memorandum from President Pusey to all department chairmen reads. "In view of representations made concerning the practice of other universities, the Corporation is now willing to authorize departmental chairmen--or, where there are no departments, individual members of the Faculty--to make a personal request for deferment in cases where, in the judgment of the author of the letter, deferment is justified under the law."
The reason for the original policy--held at least since World War II--was that national draft legislation states that only individual draft boards are supposed to make a decision as to whom should be deferred, Kennedy said.
"This is a very large change," Gerald Holton, professor of Physics and head of that department, said yesterday. "Previously Harvard University could write no letters requesting deferment, and the entire draft law depends on someone writing a letter using the word request. Otherwise the draft board would not by law be obligated to consider the letter."
According to Thomas K. Sisson, assistant dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 23 graduate students had left by the end of the first semester supposedly for reasons directly related to the draft, although not necessarily because they had been drafted.
Sisson added that since the Corporation decision all department chairmen have been writing letters requesting deferments for students in their departments. "Any time a student thinks he has a possible occupational deferment he can go to the department chairman and explain the situation." Sisson said. "We have written letters to all current and incoming graduate students telling them of this policy."
"What we're trying to do is make possible occupational deferments for those who teach at Harvard under the regulation of the Selective Service System providing deferments for critical occupations," Sisson said.
He added that 50 to 100 current first and second year students may be taken at the end of this term.
The last sentence of Pusey's memo to department chairman, viewed by some Faculty members as ambiguous, reads, "The Corporation expects that care will be exercised to avoid any implication that a request for deferment is an official act of the University."
President Pusey explained yesterday that this sentence merely means that the department head or Faculty member writing the letter has to be willing to personally request the student's deferment, and not instead say "Harvard University requests." Letters may, however, be written on Harvard stationery, Pusey said